Television is in a golden age. Or at least so we are told. If you weren’t able to tell from the quality of the programming, the decadence of the parties would give the game away. With the vast budgets of HBO, Netflix and the like – the box-set barons that have usurped the grand Hollywood studios – big series now mean serious hospitality. This kind of pride usually comes before a fall, or at least some lukewarm reviews.
Things are getting out of hand. The House of Cards premiere last month involved a whole hotel and a room full of pudding. Never to be outdone in matters of size, the epic fantasy series Game of Thrones marked the start of its fifth season by taking over the Tower of London and erecting a 1,000-seat cinema in its moat. Last year the premiere was at the Guildhall and the year before that it was in an old church crypt in Marylebone. At this rate of inflation, by the time the eighth season starts there won’t be a premiere at all; HBO will just shanghai the whole country and we will all find ourselves in some gigantic piece of immersive theatre, staring down CGI dragons in Pret.
This scale brings its own problems. There are already so many cast members that it is hard to keep up. One of Game of Thrones‘s hallmarks is bumping off its lead characters in grisly and surprising fashion: poisoned at dinner, beheaded in front of their children, stabbed in the stomach, crossbowed on the loo etc. To counter this there is a constant supply of replacement characters; a blood-bath being run as fast as the plughole can drain. Even fans of the show had trouble working out who was who on the red carpet. If you were an Englishman with long hair and a beard there was a good chance you’d be roped in for an interview just in case, or at least asked for an autograph.
Jonathan Pryce looked a bit confused by the whole scene. Fresh from his role as a meddlesome power-hungry old priest in Wolf Hall, in the new series he has turned his hand to playing a meddlesome power-hungry old priest. Like an ageing spacecraft shutting down non-essential functions to preserve power, Pryce expresses himself these days solely through his eyebrows. He certainly raised them when asked if he thought of himself as a ‘male Julie Walters’.
After the celebrities had filed in there were self-congratulatory speeches from Jeremy Darroch of Sky and Richard Plepler, the CEO of HBO. Plepler’s nut-brown tan drew audible gasps from the audience, as did his assertion that Game of Thrones had one of the best casts ever assembled ‘in film or television’. Clearly his responsibilities at the company do not extend to watching the wooden Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen (she of the dragons). As to the programme itself; well, it was more of the same. There was political intrigue and skulduggery. A throat was slit. Breasts were exposed. The plot inches towards establishing which of the vying factions will eventually rule Westeros, but progress is glacial. Daenerys is still on a separate continent from the main action. At the end of this season we will be 50 hours in and still only have a vague idea of what’s coming.
Here lies the problem with throwing such a grand event to celebrate a serial. Movies feel like one-off extravaganzas, and a premiere is an apt bit of tub-thumping. This vast party, with its costumed waiters and themed canapés, was held to mark a scene-setting episode, 1/80th (at most) of the whole narrative. Only in fantasy-land.